28 April 2011

How do you choose who to fire?

Up until this week, the worst the financial crisis had done to me was to make it basically impossible to sell my house. I haven't been hit particularly hard. Until this week, that is.

This week, my school district announced that they were, in a cost-cutting move (brought on by falling revenues from the state), going to eliminate 143 jobs. They further said that they hoped "most of this would come from attrition", which further muddied the waters. Panicked teachers all over the district were trying to figure out if the person next to them who was retiring counted. Did that person who was moving back to Indiana count? Will I still have a job in August? Will I still make enough money to pay for my mortgage?

However, this is hardly the first time that their has been massive confusion from my district, so that wasn't a surprise. In fact, except for when people get their letters in the next twenty-four hours, there's very little surprise in any of this. People want less taxes, houses lose value, teachers lose jobs. It is a nationwide pattern.

But it did raise an interesting question: How do you decide who gets the axe? Do you fire the long-time teacher because they cost too much? Perhaps you go into LIFO mode, and fire the youngest. Maybe, in a fervor of righteousness, you fire the "worst" teachers.

How do you determine who is the worst? Do you depend on test scores? On grades in their classes? On parent complaints?

Perhaps you use their evaluations. Never mind that, most evaluation forms are flawed, and that many experienced teachers only get evaluated formally once or twice a year.

(At this point, you might be wondering how I dare to be so outspoken. Well, the short answer is that I can't be fired, because I already quit.)

In my district, the VIPWM (Very Important People Who Matter) have made the decision to eliminate as many "non-classroom" jobs as possible. While this seems on the surface like a reasonable decision, I think that there are major flaws in it.

Think about the people who are "non-classroom". Janitors, lunch ladies, the secretarial staff. These people don't have teaching licenses, and they never lead a field trip or a lecture. They don't proctor tests and they don't show up as anybody's teacher of record. In fact, many students don't even know their names. But to eliminate them because that will have less of an impact on the classroom is a bit of a fallacy. Let's be honest, teachers can't do a good job in a broken down, filthy school. Teachers would struggle if the secretaries weren't screening calls, because, as we all know, parents can be a bit crazy.

I know that there isn't a good solution to this problem. I know that every way to eliminate jobs is fraught with problems. I know that no matter who gets the axe, they'll think they were wrongly eliminated. I know that if they were going to fire all teachers and no support staff, I would be complaining about that too.

I know that 143 people in my school district are losing their jobs. I know that sucks.

Now, you might say that this is how it works. I know that. I know that people lose jobs. But these people aren't losing their jobs because they're incompetent. They aren't being fired for misconduct. They're being fired for the fiscal mistakes of others. Indeed, the people who are responsible for the financial crisis which has devoured school funding, which has caused these people to lose their jobs.

The really bitter part, for me at least, is that those people, those bankers got saved when they should have been laid off. The government bailed them out, declared them to be "too big too fail". Why can't the federal government do the same thing with schools? Are we not too important to fail?

I suppose what this whole fiasco shows us where the nation's priorities are. So it's good for that.....

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